Cunningham’s combination of play-making, shot-making, length, versatility, poise and leadership was simply too much to pass up. The No. 1 pick suffered a minor ankle sprain in training camp but he’ll jump right into the starting lineup, though perhaps not at his projected position. He’ll share the backcourt with another young point guard, Killian Hayes, a 2020 lottery pick coming off an injury-marred rookie campaign.
GM Troy Weaver also added three second-round picks, including a draft-and-stash prospect. Luka Garza and Isaiah Livers figure to spend most of their rookie seasons with the Motor City Cruise, the team’s new G League franchise.
The most significant addition outside of Cunningham was Kelly Olynyk, who provides a much-needed floor stretching big. Mason Plumlee played well enough in his lone season with Detroit after signing a three-year free agent contract last summer, but his lack of a 3-point shot created spacing issues. Plumlee was traded to Charlotte on a salary dump.
Olynyk, a career 36.7% 3-point shooter who went on an offensive binge in a 27-game stint with the tanking Rockets last season, will share the center spot with second-year bruiser Isaiah Stewart.
Hamidou Diallo didn’t receive an offer sheet in restricted free agency, much to the Pistons’ relief. They re-signed him on a team-friendly contract. Frank Jackson, who was surprisingly effective as a spot-up shooter and offensive sparkplug last season, also chose to remain in Detroit. Diallo and Jackson will compete with Josh Jackson for backup minutes at shooting guard and small forward.
The front office waived Cory Joseph and his $12.6M contract, which included a $2.4M partial guarantee, then brought the veteran point guard back at a lower number. Joseph endeared himself after being acquired from the Kings last season not only with his production but his willingness to mentor his younger teammates. He’ll be the floor leader of the second unit.
The Pistons’ upcoming season:
There’s a positive vibe around the Pistons after more than decade of irrelevance. Cunningham puts them back on the national map and the roster has been built around the lunch-pail, hard-nosed motif that served the franchise so well during its glory years.
Jerami Grant blossomed as the No. 1 offensive option last season and he could be more efficient with young playmakers delivering him the ball and Olynyk stretching the defense.
Make no mistake — this is another building season for the franchise and playoff contention remains at least another season away. The Pistons are projected to win the second-fewest games in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only Orlando. Detroit could have the youngest lineup in the league and it remains to be seen how the duo of Cunningham and Hayes will mesh.
However, the Pistons have enough depth and tenacity to give more seasoned opponents plenty of tough, down-to-the-wire battles. Their cap situation beyond this season is favorable, providing them with the ability to acquire another impact player. Add in another lottery pick in next year’s draft and the Pistons could return to prominence in the not-too-distant future.